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Air conditioning set to be a main driver of global electricity demand, report says

  • Worldwide energy demand from air conditioners is set to triple by 2050, according to the IEA's "The Future of Cooling" report.
  • The impact of using air conditioners and electric fans is already significant, accounting for around one-fifth of the electricity used in buildings globally
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The rising use of air conditioners (ACs) in offices and homes is set to be a top driver of global electricity demand in the next 30 years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Tuesday.

Worldwide energy demand from air conditioners is set to triple by 2050, according to the IEA's "The Future of Cooling" report.

This increasing demand will need huge amounts of new electricity capacity, equivalent to the combined capacity of the U.S., Japan and European Union today. The number of air conditioners in buildings will hit 5.6 billion by 2050, up from 1.6 billion today, the study said.

The impact of using air conditioners and electric fans is already significant, accounting for around one-fifth of the electricity used in buildings globally, the IEA said. After the industry sector, air conditioning use is due to be the second biggest source of global electricity demand growth, it added.

"Growing electricity demand for air conditioning is one of the most critical blind spots in today's energy debate," Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said in a statement.

"With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world. While this will bring extra comfort and improve daily lives, it is essential that efficiency performance for ACs be prioritized. Standards for the bulk of these new ACs are much lower than where they should be."

The report offers up a remedy for the looming uptake of air conditioning. It found that a number of measures, including tough minimum energy performance standards, could help to more than double the average energy efficiency of air conditioning stocks globally between now and 2050.

"Setting higher efficiency standards for cooling is one of the easiest steps governments can take to reduce the need for new power plants, and allow them at the same time to cut emissions and reduce costs," Birol said.